Senior Trip: Stepping into Business

Early on Friday morning in April, business seniors and faculty boarded a bus for the annual senior trip.  Arriving in Seattle, they enjoyed a leisurely walk along the city waterfront before heading to Starbucks Center for a tour of the global company’s office headquarters. They were warmly greeted by Rachel Ruggeri, Starbuck’s Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, who shared her life story and lessons learned along the way.

Originally from the Walla Walla area, Ruggeri completed business classes at WWU, including accounting and finance classes taught by Bruce Toews, School of Business Dean.  Benjamin Wexler, senior business administration major, said Ruggeri’s presentation included “a lot of gems about career help and her journey to the top.”  In her presentation, Ruggeri discussed several attributes that helped her achieve success in the business world, including having a healthy dose of curiosity.  Toews interjected that he “vividly recalls her sitting in the front row of the classroom, diligently taking notes, and peppering him with lots of perceptive questions.”  

After the presentation, Ruggeri and several co-workers (called “partners”) provided a guided tour through key parts of the massive headquarter building, which covers 2.1 million square feet and is the largest multi-tenant building west of the Mississippi River.  The group enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Starbucks.  Several exhibits illustrated the current global pursuit toward environmental sustainability, including beta versions of reusable cup kiosks and various green initiatives being implemented by coffee bean farmers. At the end of the tour, Ruggeri gave each student a gift bag that included valuable Starbucks-branded mementos and gifts.  Toews said, “Rachel and her co-workers were such thoughtful and generous hosts!  It is clear that we got the royal treatment at Starbucks and experienced much more than most visitors will ever see or hear.”

Leaving Seattle in the middle of rush hour, bus driver George Bennett braved the Friday afternoon traffic jam with skill and good humor as we headed toward WWU’s Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory near Anacortes.  Upon arriving at Rosario, the students settled in their beachside cabins before dinner. The evening speaker was Abel Cruz, ’91, a long-time tech exec at Microsoft and more recently at Amazon.  With transparency and humility, Cruz shared the highs and lows of his career experiences.  He powerfully emphasized the importance of never letting devotion to one’s job interfere with relationships with God and with family. At the conclusion of the day, the Sabbath hours were ushered in with a georgeous sunset on the beach.

The next morning, students heard from Jeff Weijohn ’86 and his son Spencer ’16, who manage a large farm that has been in the family for three generations.  The farm, near Yakima, is well-known for its blueberries, hazelnuts, and other products, including Sorbatto, a healthy frozen berry product that you might find at the grocery store.  Each summer, the family business, which includes at least a half-dozen WWU graduates, hires business interns from WWU who learn how to manage people and business operations.  In their presentation, Jeff and Spencer shared the importance of seeking God first for the other parts of business and life to fall into place.  At the end of their presentation, they made available a large cooler of tasty Sorbatto, which the students enjoyed.

After a break, students heard from Paul Rhynard ’04 and his wife Deanne (Maschmeyer) Rhynard ’04, both business grads with many years of corporate and consulting experience.  The Rhynards have been very supportive of WWU and the School of Business, and Paul currently serves on the WWU Board of Trustees.  The Rhynards shared from the heart many lessons about navigating life after college with purpose and integrity.  Wexler said he benefitted greatly from their presentation: “It was super personal and they really came prepared with some points that were valuable for us as we graduate. They stayed to eat lunch with us so we were able to converse and get to know them personally. That was a highlight for me.”

When not soaking up knowledge from successful WWU alumni, the students explored the beach, relaxed by the campfire, and watched dolphins swim by.  They also had a lot of fun playing table games until late Saturday night.  Everyone was a bit reluctant to load the bus the next morning and face homework, papers, and tests again.  Wexler enjoyed the weekend immensely and encouraged future senior business majors to take advantage of this annual trip.